Neville John William Day 7 March 1922 - 26 November 1990
Dad would have laughed!
My dear, late Stepfather had been a ‘Fen Tiger’. He had farmed a smallholding in the Fens from near the start of World War II and right up until the mid 1960s when it simply became no longer financially viable. He was an intelligent and hard working man. He had successes in his time in the Fens but the writing was clearly on the wall as early as 1960, so he set about creating a new enterprise for himself and to support his family. Me included, and I will forever be grateful to him. He started a civil engineering company in 1965. Within a decade he was employing well over seventy people. The local news paper, the Lynn News & Advertiser, still chronicles page after page of job vacancy advertisements at Neville Day Plant Hire Ltd., in its archives. Always polite but brief and mostly phrased in Dad's always compassionate yet none patronizing way. Example: "Vacancy for an Excavator operator. Top rates paid. The more experience the better but you must enjoy your work. If you are the successful applicant then you will do so with us!"
Tragically in June 1987 Neville Day was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and on 26 November 1990 he died. He suffered astonishingly bravely. I’m not just saying that because I loved the man and because he had brought me up as his own son but because it was true. He never complained about his fate or the pain from this truly evil disease. He cried of course. Who wouldn’t?
Not surprisingly my Stepfather was a very well liked and popular man, not just in our community but far and wide. He employed lots of people and really cared for them all, along with their families. He also helped countless more people, sometimes simply with acts of kindness and sometimes in far more material ways. In the thirty seven years I knew him I never once heard him speak ill of another human being. He wasn’t madly keen on stool pigeon Dr Richard Beeching, who actually made a big impact on Neville Day's life, but then no one was very keen on Beeching. Dad never spoke ill of the man though.
When Dad died he even managed to do that not just with dignity but, and I hesitate to write it, but in good humour. He was actually laughing like a drain ten minutes before he drew his last breath.
Even my family and I though were surprised at just how many people not only knew my Stepfather but also made the effort to show their last respects at his funeral. Our quite large adjacent village church of St Nicholas was packed to its three hundred seated and standing capacity and despite the bitter late winter cold, perhaps even as many as a hundred more, waited patiently outside the church to show their respects. Over two hundred mourners signed Funeral Director Mr Lincoln's respects card, and which I still have a copy. Our family always proudly knew that Neville was a highly popular man but had no idea just how much so until meeting mourners, many of whom travelled hundreds of miles to attend his internment.
My small family and I waited outside by the churchyard entrance for the hearse to arrive. A long line of people lined the path to the church door. We knew Mr Lincoln, the undertaker well. Not a close friend as such but we lived in a small community and even as recently as thirty years ago everyone tended to know and respect everyone else in such communities.
Between the churchyard entrance and the church door one poor old man found the standing and the cold too much and he fainted. He passed out and fell right across the middle of the path just as Dad arrived in his coffin. Borne high on the shoulders of the pallbearers, led by the senior undertaker himself as an unusual gesture of extra respect for the man everyone loved. The pallbearers paused.
Mr John Lincoln, the senior undertaker drew level with an old friend and one time employee of Dad’s. A local truck driver and a pleasant chap but who was known not to be the sharpest tool in the box. The trucker, with a deadpan straight face, said to the undertaker. “I don’t suppose you were expecting a return load.”
My Mother almost passed out with shock. I almost wet myself. Mother ‘tut, tutted’ and if looks could kill she would have slain our trucker friend on the spot. I simply said to my Mother. “Mother, if he’s looking down upon us right now, and I hope he is, then he will be in hysterics. He’ll be loving it!”
Fortunately the old man recovered, got up and was helped into the church where he insisted on going. When later we told him he laughed like a drain too.
Just a few of Dad's treasured friends. From memory and which, as I grow older, is now sadly lacking. The complete list will be many, many times longer.
Chris Latham-Smith 2022.
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